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Cologne Zoo Tiger Escapes, Kills Keeper In Germany

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In this March 8, 2012 file picture Siberian tiger (Panthera tigris altaica) "Altai" walks in his enclosure in the Cologne Zoo. | AP File

BERLIN -- A tiger escaped its enclosure at Cologne Zoo in western Germany on Saturday and killed a female keeper before being shot dead by the zoo's director, police said.

The tiger slipped through a passage between the enclosure and an adjacent storage building, where it fatally attacked the 43-year-old keeper, said police spokesman Stefan Kirchner.

"It appears the gate wasn't properly shut," Kirchner told The Associated Press.

The zoo was evacuated and a SWAT team was called in, police said. But before it arrived the zoo's director managed to kill the tiger by climbing onto the storage building and shooting it through a skylight using a high-caliber rifle.

Kirchner said it was unlikely that members of the public had witnessed the incident.

"This is the darkest day of my life," the zoo's director, Theo Pagel, was quoted as saying by Cologne newspaper Express.

The paper said on its website that the Siberian tiger was a 4-year-old male called Altai that came to Cologne Zoo from an animal park in England. In November it fathered three cubs with a 7-year-old Siberian tiger called Hanya, according to the zoo's website.

Police said the zoo reopened after Saturday's incident, which occurred around noon (1000 GMT; 5 a.m. EDT). However, a planned late-night opening of the zoo has been canceled.

Cologne Zoo is one of the oldest in Germany. It was founded in 1860 and houses some 10,000 animals comprising more than 700 different species.

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